Semantic domain-specific functional integration for action-related vs. abstract concepts

Marta Ghio, Marco Tettamanti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A central topic in cognitive neuroscience concerns the representation of concepts and the specific neural mechanisms that mediate conceptual knowledge. Recently proposed modal theories assert that concepts are grounded on the integration of multimodal, distributed representations. The aim of the present work is to complement the available neuropsychological and neuroimaging evidence suggesting partially segregated anatomo-functional correlates for concrete vs. abstract concepts, by directly testing the semantic domain-specific patterns of functional integration between language and modal semantic brain regions. We report evidence from a functional magnetic resonance imaging study, in which healthy participants listened to sentences with either an action-related (actions involving physical entities) or an abstract (no physical entities involved) content. We measured functional integration using dynamic causal modeling, and found that the left superior temporal gyrus was more strongly connected: (1) for action-related vs. abstract sentences, with the left-hemispheric action representation system, including sensorimotor areas; (2) for abstract vs. action-related sentences, with left infero-ventral frontal, temporal, and retrosplenial cingulate areas. A selective directionality effect was observed, with causal modulatory effects exerted by perisylvian language regions on peripheral modal areas, and not vice versa. The observed condition-specific modulatory effects are consistent with embodied and situated language processing theories, and indicate that linguistic areas promote a semantic content-specific reactivation of modal simulations by top-down mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-232
Number of pages10
JournalBrain and Language
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2010


  • Abstract
  • Action-related
  • Concrete
  • Dynamic causal modeling
  • Embodied
  • fMRI
  • Language
  • Modal theories
  • Perceptuo-motor
  • Retrosplenial cingulate
  • Semantic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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